The Different Beat

…is a vlog dedicated to jazz and improvisation, featuring interviews produced and conducted by Peter Urpeth with some of the World’s greatest musicians. The ethos of this series is that akin to the work of a portrait painter, these are not documentaries but my exploration of extended forms of video journalism.

#3 Cooper-Moore - in two parts…

Recorded in May 2018 in East Harlem, New York, this blog - in two parts - starts with the early life and musical influences of pianist, composer, bandleader and instrument maker, Cooper-Moore, his coming to New York and its loft scene, playing with David Ware and forming his own approaches to music.

This interview, a very personal mission for me, explores the culture and politics of Cooper-Moore’s younger days in what he refers to as ‘apartheid america’, explores the function and development of creativity and of the concept of freedom in jazz and blues.

But, above all, it is C-M’s great learning on creativity itself and its intense relationship to being human that really shines in these interviews.

In an age of short blogs, I make no apology for posting this sequence in its entirety.

#2 Bertha Hope: The Legend of Harlem

I am very honoured to present this posting in The Different beat series - an extended interview with pianist, composer, bandleader and educator, Bertha Hope.

Recorded in East Harlem, New York in June 2018, this interview focuses on Bertha’s emergence as a jazz pianist and composer, her meeting and marriage to pianist and composer Elmo Hope and the immediate aftermath of Elmo’s death, along with the incredibly moving story of her return to New York’s music scene in the late 1960s.

It is my assertion that Bertha Hope - who is till major presence in New York’s contemporary jazz scene - deserves far greater and significant global recognition as a jazz pianist and composer, her influence is also in her teaching, and in her interpretation and presentation of Elmo Hope’s music - a pianist Bertha places alongside Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell as the holy trinity of jazz piano.

I have here presented nearly all of our interview, and do so as well to make available aspects of the history of jazz that are otherwise in danger of being lost.

Enjoy! And please share and subscribe on Youtube.

#1 Craig Harris: Brown Butterfly

by Peter Urpeth

It has only taken me thirty years to complete this interview. I can only blame a failed sense of direction for the fact that what started one cold Fall morning in New York in 1988 finally reached a conclusion on a burning hot day in the summertime of 2018 when, finally, I got to meet Craig Harris in his elegant Brownstone house close to Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Memorial Park.

In 1988, I’d taken Line 6 north on Manhattan, complete with my Sony Pro Walkman cassette recorder, in pursuit of an interview with the trombonist, composer and band leader at the time of the release on CD (JMT) of Harris’s new project: Cold Sweat Plays JB.

JB being, of course, James Brown, and earlier that summer I’d waxed large in print (Time Out) about the CD’s molten take on Brown’s already hot tracks. Harris’s take mixed the energy of free jazz with the exuberance and taut arranged control of Sun Ra’s Arkestra to create a celebration of the JB’s music. It was a project that justified going the extra mile.

That trip across the Atlantic had already given me exclusives with John Zorn, time on the set of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, a fresh interview with Geri Allen and a glowing evening at the Village Vanguard in the company of Geri’s trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, and a time in sweet Basil With the David Murray Big Band. But the Harris tape was the one I really wanted. This was new.

Thirty year later, I finally get to sit with Craig in the same Brownstone. As in 1988, so in 2018, there is a greater sense of occasion about his new projects than merely musical intrigue. Harris’s art shows us the potential for music as a gripping and transforming moment of joyous entertainment and all at once as a means by which to know and explore the world before us and its cultures.

Boxing and jazz might not often be seen as ripe material for creative combination, but for Craig Harris, the distinctive agility of the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali, was more than a ring-side fascination. Harris heard music in that movement.

In the boxer’s vaunted steps, the composer heard co-ordinated rhythms and saw how 236lbs of nimble destructive grace could be captured and translated into sonic form. 

Craig Harris set about notating the beats of Ali’s steps and framed a narrative across key events in the boxer’s life to create a work of multi-media celebration - Brown Butterfly.

In January 2019, New York’s Afro Future Concept label finally released the music side of this fascinating project ).

Away from the ring, the forces that shape Harris’s music owe much to the creative force of another great, Sun Ra, with whom Craig Harris worked for many years, touring with the Arkestra in the States and Europe.

Sun Ra’s show style, complete with images, costumes, and unbroken narratives would go on to form a lasting influence for the trombonist, and in the mode of diverse project-based work, Harris has created a deep opus. But it wasn’t just the shadow of the masters that drove Harris to explore new ways of presenting his creativity. The music industry was changing, and Harris saw the need to do something different.

Previous projects have celebrated the life and work of W E B Du Bois (Souls Within The veil), the Massachusetts scholar and civil rights activist, whose seminal works, such as The Souls of Black Folk (1903), did so much to raise understanding of the lives of ‘Afro-Americans’ in the post-Civil war period in America. DuBois’ influence endures, and he was the founder of the longest running Black publication in the world - The Crisis - the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which DuBois co-founded in 1909.

Harris’s trips to the UK are sadly rare, but I for one won’t be waiting for another thirty years to engage with the next moves of this true musical original.